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Felix Milgrom, Pioneering Immunologist, UB Faculty Member, Dies at 87

By Sue Wuetcher

Release Date: September 14, 2007

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Felix Milgrom, M.D., of Snyder, internationally known immunologist and SUNY Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, died Sept. 2 in Buffalo General Hospital after a short illness. He was 87.

A native of Rohatyn, Poland, Milgrom received a medical degree in 1946 and a Docent degree in 1951, both from the School of Medicine at the University of Wroclaw, Wroclaw, Poland.

He was a faculty member at the University of Wroclaw medical school and served as professor and chair of the Department of Microbiology at the Silesian University School of Medicine in Zabrze, Poland. He left Poland to join the faculty of the Department of Microbiology at the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences in 1958.

He served as chair of the department -- now known as the Department of Microbiology and Immunology -- from 1967-85, and with his predecessor as chair, noted immunologist Ernest Witebsky, and other departmental colleagues founded the Center for Immunology. The center, now known as the Witebsky Center for Microbial Pathogenesis and Immunology, is internationally known for its research in infectious diseases and host defenses against them.

Milgrom, who was named a SUNY Distinguished Professor in 1981, was known for his pioneering research in basic and medical immunology in the fields of human organ transplantation and autoimmunity.

Among his scientific contributions was the development of a simple test for syphilis that could be performed on a drop of dried blood. The method was used to test more than 2 million people during an outbreak of syphilis in Eastern Europe after World War II. He also was the first to show that certain forms of kidney graft rejection are caused by antibodies in the recipient's circulation that are directed against the grafted tissue.

Milgrom authored or co-authored more than 400 scientific publications, and mentored nearly 100 graduate students and postdoctoral researchers.

He received honorary doctorates from the University of Vienna in Austria; the University of Lund in Sweden; the University of Heidelberg in Germany; the University of Bergen in Norway; and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.

Among his numerous awards was the Cross of Merit, one of the highest awards presented by the Republic of Poland; the Gift of Life Award from the National Kidney Foundation of Western New York; the Alfred Jurzykowski Foundation Award; and the Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize. The Transplantation Society honored him with a festschrift at its fifth Basic Sciences Symposium held in 1997 at the Chautauqua Institution.

Although Milgrom retired in 1995, colleagues report that he came to campus almost daily to work on his research and writing. He was last in the office on Aug. 30.

He is survived by his wife, Halina Milgrom, M.D., of Snyder; two sons, Henry Milgrom, M.D., of Denver, Colo., and Martin Milgrom, M.D., of Indianapolis; and 5 grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at UB in October.